British neo-prog band Drifting Sun can trace their history back to the early 90s, originally named Drama. They released two albums before splitting. However, since their reformation in 2015, they have released one album per year. Their latest, Junkie Planet, is reviewed below.
First, DPRP's Stefan Hennig spent a pleasant late-Autumn Sunday afternoon chatting to Pat Sanders, keyboard player and driving force behind Drifting Sun. They discuss stories from the early years of the band, the sudden departure of long-time singer Peter Falconer, and the truth behind his leaving the band. How three vocalists were found to contribute to the album, how Pat guested on the new Nine Skies album, and teasers for what is to come from the band.
DPRP: Hello Pat. How have things been?
Pat Sanders: Good. I'm glad the album is out. It has been a lot of work and it was a very painful time in my life. It got to the point where I was thinking: "Let's just get the album out". It was dragging on, and we had problems with musicians. As you know, Peter (vocalist on the last four Drifting Sun releases) left the band, and I thought: “What are we going to do now?" I'm glad we managed to land on our feet and get the album out, and people seem to love it.
You posted a review on Facebook recently which was a very bizarre one.
Yes, the reviewer wrote that something must have gone wrong promotion-wise, as he had never heard of Drifting Sun. There are many bands out there doing well that I have never heard of. What does that mean? It was just a pointless review. In my view, if someone does not like an album, they should say so, and not review it.
I have had a few squabbles with people who have asked for a CD saying they like our stuff, then they give a bad review or say it was not right and they have then not reviewed it. I remember reading a review many years ago when Iron Maiden released Number Of The Beast, which basically said, great album, the only problem is they have put the vinyl into the sleeve. I just thought, why?
You have invested a great deal of time using social media publicising the release of Junkie Planet, have you seen the real benefits of this, as you made the build-up to the release very engaging.
Sales are doing very well, which is to do with the number of reviews and airplay online that the album is receiving. It has done very well on the Prog Archives web site. Even though it has just dropped to number 12, Planet Junkie actually was as high as number 4, which was great for the band. To be honest, it is the most popular album so far.
How busy have you been posting the discs out and do you have much help?
I do everything, and at times I felt like suicide. As you know I write all the music, I take care of organising the musicians, I do the mixing, I do a lot for the artwork design, the booklet layout, that's all me. When the album is out, I handle all the promotion, so do all the interviews, keep track of the reviews, deal with the private distributors, sending the CDs out. Its all me. Its a lot of work. They hate me at the post office.
Since Drifting Sun's “comeback” album, Trip The Light Fantastic, you have developed a pretty steady band line-up. Will on drums has been there all the way. Manu has been here for the last three albums and Mathieu on guitar for two. The biggest change was no appearance by Peter Falconer. Can you let us into the reason why Peter has gone?
I knew from the moment Peter left the band, I was going to have a problem at some point. People were going to ask were Peter was, and say it's not the same. It's very difficult when you get a new singer. I'm not saying it's the most important member of the band, but it's probably the one the listener pays the most attention to. I thought that getting someone to replace him, would be almost impossible, due to getting a new singer to become involved with the complete album. Having three singers doing three songs each was difficult enough to get together.
But then I thought, it could really add something to the album. We had to work carefully to make sure that the songs for each singer were tailored for their voices. We would not have given Marc or Joshua To Tame A Star, this was very much a Colin song.
There is some controversy as to why Peter left the band. Some reviews have said he is ill among other things. I would like to set the record straight about this. He is not ill, he is in very good health. What has happened with Peter is that he is currently doing a PhD at the moment. It has just gotten too busy for him and I could feel the output from Peter was getting slower and slower. So I knew there was a problem. It was a shame it took him a year to tell me the problem.
Can you describe the writing process? Did you present the singers with the finished product to add lyrics, or did you exchange ideas to create the finished product?
With lyrics, I let the singer decide what they want to talk about and what images the music presents to them. I try to be interested in the stories they tell, but it is not easy to get into their minds when they say to me: “I have got these great lyrics”. Until I get to see the lyrics to an entire song, I feel a bit alien to it. It's difficult for me when people ask: “What is this song about”?
I give each singer free reign for them to write about what they want. Most of the songs kept their original titles. You might be aware that a version of Everlasting Creed was released before the album, with Peter Falconer singing. (This version is available on the Drifting Sun Bandcamp page and was originally titled Cascading Tears). This was before I knew Peter was going to leave the band.
Originally this was released as an introduction to Planet Junkie. But after Peter left, I gave this track to Joshua, because we decided that we could not use Peter's vocals or melodies. So I gave this song to Joshua, but didn't tell him it had already been released with vocals by a different singer.
Had Joshua listened to any of Drifting Sun's previous releases prior to writing the lyrics for his three songs?
Yes, he has a few of the other releases.
I just wondered, as Everlasting Creed, to me appears to have a connection to The Charade from your second album On The Rebound.
I never thought of that. It never appeared to me but yes, there may be some similarity. Can I tell you an interesting story about The Charade?
Yes please, this is possibly my personal favourite Drifting Sun track.
When I first met Chris Martini, who would be the singer for the On The Rebound, because as you know we are always wanting a new singer, the other guys in the band hated his voice. John Spearman, the guitarist at the time, really, really hated his voice. We decided to give Chris the song Drifting Sun to see what he came up with vocally. He didn't originally get what the song was about, and when he recorded the demo for the song, it wasn't what we were wanting. So John straight away said: “See, it's just what I told you”.
I really liked Chris' voice, so I decided to write a song which would be specifically for Chris' voice. So I wrote The Charade for him. We worked secretly on the song and then I presented it to the rest of the band, who all agreed it sounded brilliant. I then told them it was Chris singing. From that point on they all loved Chris' voice and he was the vocalist for that album.
Sometimes when you write a song, it takes a long time for it to come out, but with The Charade, it almost wrote itself, it seemed so easy. At that time I was a personal tutor. When I had to go to work, I obviously had to stop writing, which could be very frustrating if I was part-way through a song. But The Charade just seemed to come so easily.
I have a confession, Marc Atkinson who sings on three songs on Planet Junkie, I had only heard of him for the first time probably four weeks before getting my copy of your album.
He has done some great stuff in Riversea. I had heard some of his stuff with Riversea. The reason I got in touch with Marc, was because I was talking with Thomas from Prog Archives who is good friends with Marc, and mentioned we had lost Peter and I didn't know what we would do. Thomas said I have a couple of suggestions if you are interested. First he suggested Marc Atkinson, and when I listened, he had a really great voice.
Thomas then said I have a really close friend called Colin Mold who has a seriously good voice. From there I contacted them both. Colin was a bit unsure at first and admitted to not having heard of Drifting Sun before. But because Thomas had recommended him, he would listen to the offer, and then agreed to do it. Marc was on board straight away.
I was more than happy to get Colin to sing on the album, as he has a very special voice. What is interesting about Colin's vocal, is that if you listen, there are hardly no backing vocals. Because his voice is so rounded and so full, you just don't need it. It's like Peter Gabriel. He may not be the most powerful singer, but there is something about his voice that you don't need to add anything to it.
And then there's Joshua Corum.
Joshua is phenomenal. I will tell you how I found him. I spent at least three weeks scouring Bandcamp, listening to every band I could, going through the singers. Some of them were okay. I would contact Manu (Drifting Sun's long serving bass player) and Jon the sound engineer, who would pass comment. When I suggested one singer, Jon replied that there was only so much that Auto Tune could do!
Then I found Josh. I said to Jon, oh my God, you have got to listen to this guy, and Jon listened to one track and replied: “He's got the job”.
I then had to go back to Josh to see if he was interested. When I asked him, he was very positive, I think this is due to him being an American, who are really upbeat, where as the British are very: “Well, we'll wait and see!”
Josh started working on the vocals for Everlasting Creed and then found out about the Cascading Tears version that had already been released with Peter's vocals. This then threw him off a bit, effecting his confidence. This was the first time Josh had worked on putting vocals to music he had not written, and he began to get thrown. So I then played him the song I had written called Born Of A Dream and I said to him: ”This is what I hear when I listen to you sing”.
So once he had the music I had tailored to his voice, his confidence began to come back. He then began to work on Everlasting Creed again and it became what is now on the album. Once we had the first song out of the way, it was a big boost for him. He admitted to have some confidence issues while working on Everlasting Creed, and asked if he could put this on hold until he'd done the other two. I was only too keen to say yes, to help him along.
Colin also has some confidence issues, and just does not realise how talented he is. This guy is just so talented. He was in Karnataka, and plays the violin, the guitar, the piano. He's a multi-instrumentalist. He's more than just a vocalist. I don't think he had the greatest of times when he was in Karnataka, and he became a bit blasé about things. I said to him that this will help get you back on the map, people are talking about you again, so grab the chance and carry on to do more things.
You have a guest appearance on Nine Skies' new release Sweetheart Grips. How did that come about?
I asked Eric Bouillette if he would contribute a couple of violin solos on Planet Junkie, and he agreed on the condition that I would guest on Nine Skies' new album. So I said I would be happy to do it. I loved Nine Skies' first album, so asked Eric if he had a track in mind. He said he did and sent me Soldiers Of Shame, and when I heard it, I thought, oh my God this is wonderful. Eric had played the keyboards on the demo, and when I listened to my keyboard part, I thought it needed some alteration to give it a better atmosphere.
I'm looking forward to hearing this.
I already have a copy. It's a double album and is really great, but the best track on the whole thing is the one Eric asked me to contribute to. Not just because of my contribution, it is a great track. People will love it.
Any more in the future? I notice you have a friendship with Ben, who guested on Planet Junkie, and Stefan from Gandalf's Fist, among other bands. Any projects with them planned?
I think the next Drifting Sun album will continue with having different artists guest. I approached Ben Bell asking him if he would provide the Hammond organ for the track I Will Be King. He listened to it and said: “I don't think anyone else should do it, it should only be me!”
What does the future hold for Drifting Sun and Pat Sanders?
A compilation is coming out soon, with a lot of the singles and tracks that have only been released on digital download up to now, being released on CD. And Drifting Sun have a new track with someone on the vocals. But I'm not saying who yet.
A cliffhanger for all fans.
Yes, and this will be out in the next few months.
Thanks for your time Pat and good luck for the future.
Drifting Sun - Planet Junkie
In the gap between 2015's Trip The Light Fantastic and Drifting Sun's Planet Junkie they have, unfortunately, had to find a new vocalist, as previous singer Peter Falconer had to leave the band.
For this new album, leader and keyboard maestro Pat Sanders has recruited three different singers. But rather than having them spread throughout the album, he has each singer perform three songs in a sequence, dividing them up with a couple of instrumental pieces. This could have made the album seem like three EPs welded together, but Pat Sanders' vision for Planet Junkie encompasses the whole album, and the changes of vocalist add changes of colour, rather than an interruption to the flow of the work.
If you are not familiar with Drifting Sun's work, as I wasn't before listening to Planet Junkie, then prepare yourself to be immersed in a melodically forceful collection of keyboard-led neo-prog with symphonic touches and the metallic edge from the blistering guitar of Mathieu Spaeter (Franck Carducci). With superb support from Manu Michael (bass) and Will Jones (drums), the music has a passionate intensity and should give IQ, Marillion, Arena and Pendragon pause for thought.
The album's first three tracks make use of Marc Atkinson (Riversea, Moon Halo, and Nine Stones Close) on vocals. Within Your Bones opens with Jean-Michel Jarre-style keyboard washes but the band soon kicks-in, lifting this rocked-up neo-prog track's hummable melody. Marc Atkinson is in his element here, never straining to fit in, matching the music's twist and turns. The track, though relatively short, finds time for a David Jackson like non-jazz sax solo from guest musician Sarah Skinner. This blends into a scorching guitar solo and then Pat Sanders lets rip on the Moog. Within Your Bones is a great start.
Next up in the opening trilogy is my least favourite track on the album. The title track is a rather breathless affair, barrelling along at a breakneck pace. It mixes classic rock with neo-prog but it throws me out of the mood it creates with some clumsy transitions and it becomes a little repetitive. But it soon passes and is replaced by the stately ballad Missing, where organ and strummed guitar frame Atkinson's best vocal, before a lovely guitar solo and then a synth solo follow in close succession, proving the adage that sometimes less is more.
The beautiful classical piano interlude, Life, introduces the next set of three, and these feature Karnataka's Colin Mold. Night Time Sorrow is a melancholic synth-washed and acoustic guitar ballad of which Steve Hackett would be proud. But what makes it special is Colin Mold's voice, which has a Peter Gabriel soulfulness mixed with Justin Hayward's (Moody Blues) poppy edge. Full of emotion, he manages to outshine Marc Atkinson.
Mold shines again on Stay With Me's keyboard-heavy balladry, with Mathieu Spaeter's guitar solo a thing of sinuous beauty. The longer track, To Tame A Star, allows the ballad to develop through keyboards and bass, adding in violin from Eric Bouillette (The Room, Nine Skies) to give a folk-rock feel. It picks up the tempo halfway through and the musicianship sparkles.
Another interlude follows. The instrumental I Will Be King has a rolling, funky edge that you can't help nodding your head along with. It also features cracking Hammond organ from Ben Bell (Gandalf's Fist), and the saxophone returns. It is probably my favourite track on Planet Junkie!
Next up is the final trilogy on the album, with Joshua Corum (Head With Wings) on vocals, someone with whom I was unfamiliar.
His three songs start with the delightful Born of a Dream, which would not be out of place on Genesis' Wind And Wuthering, and his voice is mid-way between Gabriel and Phil Collins. Just terrific. However, the ancient Greek philosophy referencing Diogenes is a musically and lyrically dense piece, that I'm not sure that I have a grasp on yet. On repeat plays it occasionally irritates me and at other times I buy into its shredding guitar meets Gentle Giant complexity.
The longest piece, Everlasting Creed, has more passionate guitar and the additional clarinet adds different, warmer timbres. It switches between the gentle and the unpredictable and closes the album in fine style.
Drifting Sun definitely have extraordinary skill with a ballad, making them feel as energetic and vital as the faster tempo numbers. Though this album doesn't reach the heights of my favourite neo/symphonic album, Unitopia's The Garden, it is well on the uplands, despite for me the odd mis-step.
Obviously if you are not a fan of neo-prog, then Drifting Sun's Planet Junkie will not be for you. But if you are a fan of the bands mentioned in this review, then this is an easy recommendation.